“Once I am in rhythm, I can beat any batsman,” Ravichandran Ashwin had declared after play the previous day. On Tuesday, the spin ace came on to bowl just before tea, and it appeared he had never left the field.
Ashwin was in his element, and produced his best Test figures by scalping seven for 59, leading India to a 321-run win over New Zealand in the final game with a day to spare. Virat Kohli’s team swept the series 3-0.
If Monday demanded hard work from Ashwin, New Zealand batsmen caved in on the fourth day after India piled up the runs before declaring. And Ashwin finished with career-best match figures of 13/140.
Making the difference
A seventh Man-of-the-Match award and fourth consecutive Man-of-the-Series prize showed his impact in India’s winning run in the last one year and regaining the No. 1 Test ranking spot .
In the afternoon heat, there was work to be done, though it was a question of when and not if.
New Zealand were set an improbable target of 475 to chase, or realistically left to defend for 135 overs to stave off defeat, after Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored a rapid, unbeaten 101, and Gautam Gambhir (50) helped build on the overnight lead of 276.
The fourth-day wicket with its cracks and rough looked more menacing with Ashwin on the attack. On Day 3, Ashwin had to work hard for success and there was anticipation over his bowling on Tuesday. Kohli started with his pacers to create rough areas for the spinners to exploit and gave Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja one over each before tea.
Ending it swiftly
Ashwin dashed any New Zealand hopes of dragging the match into the final day, wrapping it up in one session.
The 30-year-old cleaned up the middle-order, especially the Kiwi skipper, Kane Williamson, who he removed for the fourth time in the series. New Zealand lasted just 44.5 overs, dismissed off the day’s penultimate delivery, the last nine wickets falling for 115 runs.
The visitors tried to block initially, but suddenly tried to play their shots against Ashwin, a tactic which boomeranged on them.
Ashwin almost matched his performance against South Africa.
The difference between the two series was that this one was played on wickets that can’t be termed rank turners.
In Kolkata, the wicket was more suitable to the pacers, and in Indore, the India batsmen proved the wicket was sluggish but didn’t have any demons.
Kohli deserved credit for his bowling plans and for giving Ashwin an attacking field. While the spinner has found a way to best utilise the Indian conditions, Kohli seems to have understood perfectly what Ashwin needs.
That has been the case through this series and was so against South Africa late last year.
Spin has dictated the outcome of yet another home series, a formula India seem to have mastered.